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THE FIGHTING TEMPTATIONS

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Cuba Gooding Jr., Beyonce Knowles, Mike Epps, LaTanya Richardson, Steve Harvey
Director: Jonathan Lynn
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround, French Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Paramount
Features: See Review
Length: 122 Minutes
Release Date: February 3, 2004
 

“I guess we better go win this church some money.”  

“Give ‘em hell. I mean that in the most Christian way.”

Film ***

Though it follows something of a familiar formula, The Fighting Temptations is one of those movies that puts a smile on your face and keeps it there throughout the movie. It's an entertaining and heartwarming comedy that also includes some incredibly outstanding musical numbers. Watching the movie, you get the idea that the movie cares about the music and the characters bringing the music to life strongly and beautifully. In short, it's the epitome of a contemporary crowd pleasing piece of entertainment.

Cuba Gooding Jr. stars as Darrin Hill, a young, ruthless and not always trustworthy advertising executive for a firm in New York City. His dishonesty eventually captures up with him in two instances, which both arrive at the same time. When his superiors discover he falsified his resume, he is instantly fired and soon afterward, receives news that his Aunt Sally, who raised him for most of his childhood, has just died.

Darrin's roots happen to be all the way down south in Montecarlo, Ga., where he must travel back to for the funeral. He does want to pay his respect to his late Aunt, but having just been fired from a privileged job, it's needless to say that Darrin also is eager to see what was left to him in his Aunt's will. He discovers that he is entitled to $150,000, but only on one condition; if he'll agree to direct the church choir and get them entered in the prestigious Gospel Explosion contest.

Is there a reason that such an unqualified family member was chosen to direct the church choir? Actually, there's a very good one. Growing up as a child in the small town, Darrin's life was much committed to the church, where his Aunt was one of the lead choir singers. When he left for New York to engage in a successful career, he seemed to have forgotten all of his family roots, not even bothering to call or write. It seems that Darrin is being given a life learning lesson.

As for the choir itself, it's pretty much a train wreck. Needing additional participants to give the choir its strength, Darrin holds instant auditions for anyone with the potential for gospel power, which proves to be a bit of a challenge. Another challenge is dealing with that of Paulina (LaTanya Richardson), who's ultra heavy into church politics, feeling that anyone who's ever sinned in any way shouldn't be allowed in the church at all. It goes without saying that she has objections to Darrin handling the choir.

And Darrin has all the reason in the world stay in town. For one thing, he has creditors after him back in New York, since he's maxed out all of his credit cards. Another good reason is the presence of Lilly (Beyonce Knowles), who was close to becoming Darrin's childhood sweetheart before he decided to move away. Now Lilly is a single mother and a lounge singer at a local nightclub. She also happens to have the exact singing qualities needed to lead the choir in voice, as demonstrated during a sultry performance of the song "Fever".

The music numbers in The Fighting Temptations will do nothing short of bringing you to your feet as you watch the movie. This is perhaps the most soulful music to be found in any movie since perhaps The Blues Brothers. Such sequences as a performance in front of a group of prisoners and the climatic contest performance are dynamic examples of the power of gospel music, a form of music I am not so familiar with.

I honestly feel that with all it's heart, soul, and bundles of laughs in between, just about anyone who watches this movie will be brought to the same level of joy that I was. With pleasing performances, and huge extra laughs courtesy of co stars Mike Epps and Steve Harvey, The Fighting Temptations is a most irresistible piece of music and comedy.

Video ***1/2

This is a most visually pleasing and solid transfer courtesy of Paramount. The anamorphic picture is much consistent with image sharpness and clarity, in additions to the beautiful useage of colors, which are the highpoint in the presentation. Despite a bit of brief softness in one portion, this is a most exuberantly looking feature. A full frame version is also available.

Audio ****

With the music taking center stage, this 5.1 mix adds up to one of the year's first great sounding releases. The music numbers offer a strong, sharp, and ever so alive feeling that will rock the life from your speakers. It's very much the equivalent of having a larger than life concert performance right in your living room. Even when there isn't music, dialogue delivery and additional areas of good balance and range. A most excellent job, indeed.

Features *1/2

I'm kind of caught by surprise that neither a commentary nor a featurette of any sort was included, because I'm sure quite a bit went into the production. As for the disc itself, included are some extended scenes and musical numbers, and a trailer.

Summary:

In terms of delivering some much soulful entertainment value, The Fighting Temptations delivers at an across-the-board level. Big laughs and even bigger doses of soul-grasping music are the driving power of this feel good entertainment offering.